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Find old-fashioned but reliable bakeware at Grandma's
By Annie Overboe | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/9/2009 12:01 AM

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If you're searching for creative ways to put affordable baked goods on your table this fall look no further than Grandma's kitchen.

Tucked away behind the newfangled cookware, you'll likely find a culinary workhorse: a cast iron skillet.

Back in the day, cooks across America relied upon their cast iron skillet for everything from breakfast eggs to sizzling supper steaks and, believe it or not, tasty desserts.

Today, however, few bakers think to tap the cast iron skillet as an option for quick breads or desserts. But when it comes to baking recipes, the powerful heat-conducting ability of the cast iron skillet can't be beat. Unlike some flimsy bakeware that fights the heat, a cast iron skillet embraces the warmth of your oven. Evenly distributing heat, cast iron bakes uniform golden crusts bursting with flavorful texture.

Old-fashioned cornbread offers the perfect recipe to pair with this old-fashioned pan. The Americana quick bread provides homespun goodness that's easy on your time and family budget. Now that's delicious savings!

Knowing that cast iron would bake a toasty essence into cornbread, I set out to gently tweak the classic Southern recipe. First up, I increased the amount of cornmeal and reduced the flour, setting the stage for enhanced flavor and diverse textures.

To keep the crumb moist, I substituted buttermilk for the standard whole milk. The acidity of buttermilk adds a subtle background flavor that nicely complements the earthy corn notes. Butter melted in the skillet coats the pan and imparts toasty tastes into the crust.

Before you start this recipe, make sure your cast iron skillet is properly seasoned before using for baking. If it's been a while since the skillet came out of hiding, wash thoroughly with hot water and a few drops of mild soap. Never put cast iron in the dishwasher. Hand dry and heat on stove until hot. Cool completely.

To season or re-season your cast iron skillet, lightly coat the inside of the skillet with vegetable oil and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Cool and wipe inside with paper towel. Store away from excessive moisture or dust.

Here are some other secrets to successful baking with cast iron:

• Cast iron comes out of the oven hot and stays hot for longer than other pans. Place on heatproof pads or heavy-duty cooling rack.

• Don't boil water in cast iron or you'll remove that well-seasoned coating.

• Don't store baked goods in the skillet. Remove food as soon as safely possible.

• Don't leave cast iron in the sink to soak. Promptly clean by scraping any food bits and quickly rinse with hot water and minimal soap; heat on stove to dry.

Lightly brush with oil and heat on low for 2 to 3 minutes. Cool and wipe clean with paper towel.

Light texture. Great corn taste. Crispy and flavorful crust. Texture that holds up to the butter. One bite of this Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread and you will ask Grandma if you can keep her skillet.

• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at Baking Secrets, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL, 60006 or food@dailyherald.com.